Chaos in class - Smiling Sri Lanka - CycleBlaze

February 24, 2020

Chaos in class

The joy of travelling slowly
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Bill ShaneyfeltWow! You got to see a star tortoise!
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4 years ago
Leo WoodlandIs it rare? I had no idea. I thought it was just a funny-looking tortoise, which I suppose is just what it is. I will now go round and boast about it. Thanks, Bill
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4 years ago

BADULLA - You want to empty a school playground? Just make sure your route runs down one side so that the kids have time to run to the other.

The school was out in the sunshine, breaking geography and spelling classes with a breath of fresh air. The more observant saw us round one side of their field and worked out they could get to the gate on another side in time to meet us. The others, attracted by the commotion, ran with them.

They wore black with dazzling white shirts. At first they stayed on their side of the fence, offering hands to shake. And then the daring opened the gate and they all spilled on to the road. And we were surrounded by shouting, giggling and grinning children of nine or ten, laughing, pushing their hands at us. There were so many that we couldn't get to a camera.

A teacher appeared, watching but letting the happiness continue.

Steph apologised for the disruption.

"It's OK," she replied. "They are happy to see you."

We have all discovered, though, that teachers have eyes and ears beyond the normal. When one of the children cheekily asked for money, she was on him instantly and he was treated to a humiliating dressing down in front of his mates.

To reach the school, we had ridden a long and bumpy byway of pockmarked tar and puddled gravel. We left town and doubled back behind a giant temple revered for being where Buddha first visited. This isn't as fanciful as many religious beliefs, by the way, because it's cited in an ancient chronicle. Not surprisingly, that makes it one of the great religious sites of Sri Lanka. It's open all day and night, through a gateway at the end of a roadway.

Old chronicles attest that this was where Buddha first visited
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To our left as we rounded it, workmen beside a reflecting lake were finishing a giant statue of Buddha. Its head was covered. Religious convention is that no one gazes on Buddha unless he is in a state of perfection.

The road became enjoyable if demanding. We bumped on pitted tar and twisted around small lakes in rutted sand. Scooters and tuk-tuks politely let us choose our path.

And then, after the peace of a lake in which small islands had stands of trees, we turned on a busier road that brought the challenge of the day. Two challenges, in fact, because two ridges lay between us and Badulla. Those ridges had stretches of 15 per cent but the second was by far the longer. It climbed unrelentingly, hot, sticky and busy. It was never easy and often hard, with no clue when it would end.

"I was having real trouble with the heat," Steph said when we finally sat in a grubby café behind cool fruit juices. "My heart was racing."

Drinking water is delivered to remote areas
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The climb accorded us a band marked out for cyclists and pedestrians and the traffic was respectful, as it always has been. But to the edge of this metre-wide band was a sharp concrete gully. We fought to stay clear of it, concentrating to keep a straight line because loaded bikes in low gears can wander.

"I knew I just wasn't lucid enough to ride close to it," Steph confessed. She wasn't the only one.

Many a crushed hope came before suddenly we were in town. Every twist around the cliff to our left deceived. The top of the climb had yet to come. And then we were there, unexpectedly. A Badulla sign and straight away the start of town and the descent.

We are staying tonight in a hotel next to the station, which promises to be noisy but sets us up for a pretty train ride through the tea plantations.

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